The devastation New York City suffered on September 11, 2001, was unprecedented and horrendous. As in all Presidentially declared disasters, EPA cooperates with many other federal departments to provide a coordinated response. This hearing is to examine EPA’s response and future preparedness and to receive testimony on the Test and Clean program EPA is conducting in Lower Manhattan.
Following September 11th, EPA was highly involved conducting air, water, and dust monitoring in Lower Manhattan for environmental hazards. EPA vacuumed street debris and disposed of hazardous wastes. EPA also conducted a voluntary clean up program from 2002 to 2003 that served more 4,100 residents in Lower Manhattan. Although EPA does not ordinarily administer worker protection regulations, it provided respirators and protective gear for workers at the World Trade Center site.
EPA has received criticism for its role following September 11th. The EPA Inspector General released a lengthy report in 2003 alleging many problems with EPA’s response. I’ll provide two brief examples. First, the EPA IG report alleged that EPA, OSHA, and the Council on Environmental Quality released misleading information to the public on air monitoring and sampling in press releases. However, in the same report the IG conceded that EPA used many methods to inform the public including public meetings, fact sheets, its website, and interviews with newspapers, radio, and television, as well as through press releases. The IG concluded in the same report, “In regard to the monitoring data, we found no evidence that EPA attempted to conceal data results from the public.” Secondly, although the IG was critical of EPA’s response including its response to indoor environmental contamination, the IG concluded, “EPA’s actions to evaluate, mitigate, and control risks to human health from exposure to indoor air pollutants in the World Trade Center area were consistent with applicable statutes and regulations.”
Ultimately, the EPA IG report was incomplete because the IG did not interview other officials at other federal agencies such as OSHA and CEQ. Following the release of the 2003 EPA IG report, my staff prepared a report reviewing the IG’s findings and interviewing EPA IG personnel, former acting Administrator Marianne Horinko, CEQ Chairman Jim Connaughton, and OSHA Assistant Administrator John Henshaw. I request that report appear in the hearing record.
While the EPA IG was critical of EPA’s response, not all officials were critical of the response to September 11th. Dr. Thomas Frieden, the New York City Commissioner of Public Health testified at an EPW Clean Air Subcommittee hearing held in New York City in February 2002, “One of the most vivid pictures to emerge is one of unprecedented cooperation between local, state, and federal health, environmental, and occupational agencies. The teamwork is quite extraordinary.”
I hope this hearing does not focus on the conflicting findings of a four year old IG report. Instead, I hope this hearing provides legitimate Congressional oversight on activities in which EPA is currently engaged.
In January 2007, EPA opened the public registration for a new Lower Manhattan Test and Clean Program. This program is designed to test for elevated levels of four contaminants associated with dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center. FEMA has provided $7 million to EPA for this work. I understand that members of the expert panel CEQ and EPA convened for this purpose are dissatisfied that a more exacting program could not be developed. However, I have an August 2006, letter from New York City Health Commissioner Frieden stating, “The environmental investigations and testing conducted in lower Manhattan indicates that potential health impacts from any remaining [World Trade Center] dust are extremely low or non-existent.” I ask consent that this letter appear in the hearing record.
We have witnesses that I know will shed further light on many of the issues involving the World Trade Center and its aftermath, and I look forward to their testimony. In conclusion, I would also like to point out that Chairman Connaughton has volunteered to testify although he is the target of litigation involving the World Trade Center. The complaint against him has been dismissed in the district court, and the appellate court affirmed that decision. I would request that Senators recognize that there may be questions that Chairman Connaughton may want to answer but may choose to decline because it may not be prudent given the litigation.
I appreciate all the witnesses participation this morning.